Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pasture Of Muppets: Inside the Metallica Reviews Scandal

Agents of Metallica managed another internet debacle last week, caused this time by preposterous demands that journalists who attended a listening party for the upcoming Metallica album pull their subsequent reviews. Only one publication refused: The Quietus.

I spoke with The Quietus editor John Doran (pictured above to the left, with Slayer guitarist Kerry King on the right) to get the lowdown on what, exactly, happened.

The short version: While everything else about metal seems to be evolving, certain US-based heavy metal publicists didn't get the memo. And Metallica was as upset about the early reviews debacle as anyone else. (The band's website now includes links to the once-offending reviews.)

Doran explained the situation to Listening Post via cellphone from London. First, I asked him if anything like this had ever happened to him before.

"I wouldn't want to refer to it specifically as an American phenomenon, but I definitely find that when I'm dealing with indie bands or rock bands in the UK (versus) dealing with -– not always American bands, but bands that are bigger in America than they are over here, like Judas Priest or Metallica -– I find that there seems to be an extra level of machismo in some of the PR agencies that I basically find tedious."

"It doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help the band, and it certainly doesn't help the journalists. Once I was supposed to go over to America and interview Judas Priest for Metal Hammer (Magazine), and because of a bomb scare, my plane got held up and I couldn't make it out to the states in time. I was supposed to go to a hotel, go into the room next to Judas Priest and interview Rob Halford on the phone.

"I just said, 'Well look, my plane's been grounded because of a bomb scare, can I just give (the interview) on the phone?'

"The woman who looks after Judas Priest went insane and demanded that Metal Hammer sack me. To me, I thought it was like a penis-measuring competition. There was no real reason for me to go to America (for a phone interview in a hotel room adjacent to Halford's).

"I think it's really sad, because at the grassroots level, as indie and hip hop devolve, metal evolves. If you want to see the most open-minded, most integrated, most accepting audiences in the world, go to a metal gig -- especially in the UK. It's a lot more diverse and open-minded than an indie crowd. But sometimes I don't think some of the PR people are up to speed on this, and they're still acting a bit like (manager) Peter Grant from Led Zeppelin or whatever. There's just too much machismo, do you know what I mean?"

I did. Then I asked who was at fault in this whole the early review scandal. Basically, which brainiac invited journalists to hear the upcoming Metallica album and was shocked when they wrote about it?

"It was not the English PR people for Metallica who caused this clusterfuck. Metallica's management -- I was really genuinely surprised. I was expecting to have some kind of fucking guy who does nothing but eat raw beef fuck me up and tear me a new asshole. But they had (Metallica's manager) Cliff Bernstein call me up, and he was, like, a gentleman, you know, a really nice guy."

Apparently, Metallica didn't know much about the listening sessions or subsequent requests that the resulting reviews be deleted.

"Metallica said 'Look, we've been away on tour, and we're a bit annoyed that this thing has gone on, because it makes us look bad.' And as soon as they said that, I could see that the tide of e-mails we were getting, some started going in Metallica's favor."

That's when it occurred to Doran that it might be a good idea for Metallica to offer him an interview in addition to more mainstream metal magazines, so that "people realize you're not totally afraid of the internet anymore."

I asked Doran whose fault the whole thing was, if not the band's. Aren’t they responsible for the actions of their representatives?

"It seems like the guy from Q Prime, he came over to the UK, and he just took too much for granted. It seems totally plausible to me that these listening sessions were just to see who was going to give them proper features, who was going to run a news feature… But unfortunately, the guy from Q Prime who came to the UK just didn't say at any point, 'you're not allowed to write about this.'"

Doran added that when Metallica's people called to tell him to pull his early review of the album, he refused because he essentially had nothing to lose.

"Speaking as someone who runs a blog site in the UK, Metal Hammer, Kerrang and Rock Sound have got a really, really big vested interest in taking those reviews down immediately. I didn't, because there was no way that Metallica were going to give me an interview. So when I was being told, 'Oh, you've got to take the review down,' I was like 'Show me an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and I'll take it down.'

"This is the same PR company that look after Fightstar -- like I could give a fuck. I was like, 'You're not going to give me access to Metallica and I don't like any of the other bands you look after, so I don't really care (inaudible), to be honest.' And they started phoning all these writers who'd been there, and trying to scope out who the writer was (who refused to take down the review)."

Ultimately, Doran decided to pull the review because his writers were in danger of losing access to Metallica in their work for other publications:

"As soon as my writers are in the firing line, then immediately, I've got to look after the best interests of my writers, you know. I'm definitely not going to take it down because the band asked me to. But I think, genuinely think (that Metallica has come out looking) alright, definitely a lot better than they did after the whole Napster debacle."

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